Fall in funding for bovine TB vaccine research forecast
Funding for research into vaccines to combat bovine TB has seen an overall downward trend which is set to continue in the coming years, according to official figures.
This is likely to spark concern among opponents of a planned badger cull to tackle the disease, who have argued for the use of inoculation as an alternative to the controversial control method.
Explaining the forecast fall in financial support for research, the Government points out it only included funding already committed to research – and this is likely to increase as further studies are commissioned.
And while vaccination was one of the coalition goals to help curb the spread of bovine TB, Brussels recently confirmed an injection to protect cattle was at least a decade away.
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In the meantime, the Government "cannot sit back and wait" while the disease continued to spread, said officials.
A planned cull of badgers in Gloucestershire and west Somerset, put on hold last year, is due to start this summer, ministers confirmed yesterday.
Funding to develop a vaccine for badgers, blamed for the spread of disease in cattle, has already seen year-on-year cuts since a high of £3.2 million in 2009/10. It dropped to £2.2 million this year, and is forecast to fall further.
Cash support for a cattle vaccine is also down overall. Standing at £3.7 million in 2009/10 it fell to £2.2 million last year.
While it was increased by around £500,000 this year, it is due to fall again by 2015/16 to less than £2 million.
Labour's Shadow Farming Minister Huw Irranca-Davies, said: "Government cuts to funding for badger vaccinations and their dithering on cattle vaccinations means they are failing farmers and our countryside. It is as if they want to rule out all options other than this flawed cull which is bad for wildlife, bad for farmers and bad for taxpayers."
A Department for Environment spokesman said: "These figures only show funding already committed to long-term research projects over the next few years. They are likely to increase as further work is commissioned.
"Scoping of potentially significant additional research on cattle vaccination is currently in progress. Vaccination is one of our goals to help stop the spread of bovine TB, but as the EU Commission recently confirmed it could be ten years before we have a cattle vaccine we can use.
"We are working hard to overcome the barriers to using a vaccine, but we cannot sit back and wait while the disease is spreading.
"That is why we need to use every other available tool at our disposal including control of badgers to tackle the spread by wildlife."
Experts say oral vaccinations for badgers are many years away, if at all possible, and an injectable vaccine for badgers – which has been trialled in Gloucestershire – is seen as both costly and impractical.
EU legislation currently outlaws cattle vaccines such as BCG, mainly because of the possibility that an injected animal is not fully protected against infection, and these then cannot be distinguished from healthy beasts.
A parliamentary inquiry is currently being held into the vaccination of badgers and cattle against bovine TB.